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Gun violence in Philadelphia overwhelmingly affects people of color who come from disadvantaged communities and have previously been traumatized by high levels of violence around them, according to a new report examining more than 2,000 shootings in the city.
The findings were part of a report issued by the 100 Shooting Review Committee, a multiagency initiative begun in September 2020 that started off examining 100 shootings but expanded its scope to address the causes and offer solutions amid the increased gun violence that Philadelphia has experienced over the last few years.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic that it’s this year that we begin to turn the tide,” said Councilman Curtis Jones, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
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The report was compiled by a group consisting of the department of public health, district attorney’s office, police department, public defenders’ association, managing director’s office, first judicial district and the state attorney general’s office.
The report painted a picture of gun violence as a racial justice issue that disproportionately affects Philadelphia’s Black communities. It found that since 2015, more than 80% of shooting victims and 79% of arrestees have been Black. Both groups overwhelmingly come from majority non-white communities with high poverty and unemployment, the report concluded.
“Endemic violence in these communities means that the vast majority of those arrested for gun violence have themselves been previously traumatized, often as a witness to previous violent acts; over 80% have previously accessed or been screened for behavioral health services through the City,” according to the report.
The problem has been exacerbated by having more guns on the street, which in turn has led to more shootings and fewer solved cases due to strained resources, the report found.
Other key findings include:
- Victims and arrestees for shootings tend to be male, people of color, 18-35 years old, and have a prior criminal history. Most arrestees have used non-criminal city services, with the most common being behavioral health services, and have previously witnessed violence.
- Arguments were the most commonly identified shooting motive (50% of shootings). Drug trafficking or transactions was the second-most-common motivation (18%).
- When crime-guns are recovered, they tend to be semi-automatic pistols that were first purchased in Pennsylvania more than 3 years ago.
- Clearance rates in shooting cases are low. For example, only 37% of fatal shootings and 18% of non-fatal shootings in 2020 have been cleared. Out of the cases of 9,042 shooting victims between 2015 and 2020 in Philadelphia, 6,910 have not been cleared.
- There has been a marked increase in the number of people arrested in Philadelphia for illegal gun possession (without the accusation of any additional offense). That increase is largely due to a doubling in arrests for illegal possession of a firearm without a license since 2018. Arrests for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person have also increased during that time period, but more modestly.
- There is a large disparate impact in illegal gun possession arrests: approximately 4 in 5 people arrested for both primary types of illegal gun possession are Black. Additionally, much of the increase in illegal gun possession arrests have been of young people carrying firearms without a license.
With the caveat that the suggestions did not necessarily have unanimous agreement, the committee offered some of the following recommendations to solve the gun violence crisis:
- Dedicate investment of resources in neighborhoods where chronic disinvestment has crippled community supports, health, and public safety, such as in historically “red-lined” communities and those facing the most violence.
- Increase trust between law enforcement and community members by increasing non-enforcement interactions with police (perhaps through increased community-based policing and foot patrols), reducing law enforcement responses to minor events that currently lead to misdemeanor arrests/charges, and reducing traffic stops for minor code enforcement (such as broken taillights).
- Develop more victim-centered systems and invest in robust, community-based, culturally competent victim services.
- Improve arrest rates in shooting cases by creating a centralized non-fatal shooting investigation team within the PPD and further investing in better forensic technology.
- Reduce failures of victims and witnesses to appear in criminal cases by providing more support to victims and witnesses (transportation, better follow up), investing in technology to allow for both court-reminder texting to victims and witnesses and provision of transportation vouchers, establishing stronger accountability for police officer failures to appear, and striving to build trust in the overall criminal justice system.
- Advocate for legislation to increase the amount of information that needs to be collected from gun purchasers, to further deter “straw purchasing.”
- Prioritize 311 responses and other city services in crime hot spots. Research suggests that addressing environmental factors (e.g., cleaning up trash, fixing and improving street lighting) will result in a significant reduction in violent crimes.
“We remain focused on fighting the surge of violent crime that continues plague our neighbors and our communities. The report released today, this report, highlights the urgent need to remain consistent with our crimefighting efforts, coupled with proportionate consequences to stop the senseless loss of lives,” PPD Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.
The hope is to stem the bloodshed following last year’s 562 killings, which were the most since the city first started keeping record. Of the slayings, 490 were the result of shootings, according to the controller’s office. In addition, the controller’s office tallied 1,842 nondeadly shootings in 2021.
There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.